2014-2015 Catalog 
    Apr 18, 2021  
2014-2015 Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Freshman Writing Seminar

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.

Topics include:

  • The Power of Laughter. Bilger
    Comedy draws lines between insiders and outsiders, those who get the joke and those who don’t. By considering what makes us laugh and how authors incorporate comic elements into their works, we will be able to understand important elements of rhetoric and identity. We will read theoretical essays, plays, short stories, and novels that focus on the subtle and complex workings of comedy and laughter. Writing assignments will focus on making sense of laughter through literary analysis and the application of critical theory.
  • 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.
  • Literary Journalism. Kindley
    This course will introduce students to the tradition of literary journalism from the eighteenth century to the present day.  “Literary journalism” refers both to journalistic accounts of literature (book reviews, interviews, etcetera) as well as journalistic writing that itself possesses the virtues of literature, with particular attention paid to the creative nonfiction essay. Authors will include Samuel Johnson, Joseph Addison, William Hazlitt, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Wilson, James Baldwin, Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion, Helen Vendler, and others. We will also consider the state of literary journalism in today’s internet-saturated culture.
  • Science, Magic, 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.
  • American Idealism. McGrath
    The American republic is an experiment, a test, Lincoln called it, of whether philosophical ideals can address the vagaries of history. Down the years, the attempt to realize American ideals has proven to be as difficult as reconciling dreams with reality. The result has been a peculiarly experimental literature, one that embodies tension and contradiction, and for that reason finds out the real American life. We will read major American authors, with particular attention to the way writing not only reflects but also discovers the world out there. Student writing will also be a process of discovery, following literary evidence toward new ideas.
  • 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.
  • Imagining Adolescence. Noel
    This course emphasizes critical thinking, sound argumentation in writing, and close analysis of written work. In this section, we’ll read a range of literature and discuss it first in terms of its literary merits and secondly for what it may show about the ways in which adolescence has historically been conceptualized and depicted. You’ll write four papers for this course, three of which will focus on literary analysis; for the fourth, you’ll have the option of writing a creative piece in order to engage with literature not only as a reader/ respondent but also as a writer.
  • 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.
  • Satire in Literature and Film. Puchner
    From A Modest Proposal to Catch-22, The Great Dictator to Dr. Strangelove, the satiric voice has played a central role in the intersection of art and protest. In this course, we’ll look at the role of satire in literature and film. We’ll focus primarily on literature, reading both canonical and contemporary works and examining how various writers have used comedy to comment on society, protest political injustice, or expose the absurdity of the human condition. Through close viewings of several films, we’ll also explore the rich vein of satire that’s helped shape the history of cinema.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.