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CAS EN 220: Undergraduate Seminar in Literature

Academic Year 2024-2025, Semester I

Fundamentals of literary analysis, interpretation, and research. Intensive study of selected literary texts centered on a particular topic. Attention to different critical approaches. Frequent papers. Limited class size. Required of concentrators in English. Satisfies WR 150 requirement.

Fulfills BU Hub requirements: Writing, Research, and Inquiry, Oral and/or Signed Communication, and Research and Information Literacy.


Topics for Fall 2024 



The Competition for Literature

We are used to thinking of our own time as one in which various new media forms have arisen to compete with literature for ways of representing reality, creating aesthetic pleasure, conveying information, and communicating between creators and audiences (or producers and consumers). Our contemporary “media ecology,” however, has some origins in an earlier moment. Around the turn to the twentieth century, between 1880 and 1920, several newly invented technologies of representation became widespread: photography, the telephone, the phonograph, the typewriter, radio, and eventually film. In response, the styles, function, and purposes of literature shifted, in part the result of trying to outperform such modern technologies, in part the result of trying to find new justifications for the uniqueness of literature. Our course will explore some of the ways literature competed with new mechanical and electronic methods of representation, and examine some of the theoretical reflection on the nature and significance of literature that came out of this crisis of competition. We’ll compare poetry, fiction, and drama from the nineteenth century with innovations in these genres that show the influence of technological methods of recording thought and experience on literary art: for example, the typewriter on modernist poetry (T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams), and the phonograph on the literary reproduction of voice (Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying). We’ll sample a few early films to see how they demanded new exercise of sensory perception and how they innovated with the structure of narrative. We’ll also read works that reflect directly on the question of what literature can do in altered modern circumstances: poetry by Frost; fiction and essays by Virginia Woolf; a play by Samuel Beckett. We’ll look into some of the ways critics began analyzing what was happening to literature, as they explored what might be unique about it and how its nature and purposes might be changing

EN 220 A1 Matthews

TR 11:00 – 12:15p


Love and Death

Works Covered: William Shakespeare, Sonnets, 130, 138; Poems by Thomas Wyatt, Christopher Marlowe, Andrew Marvell; Robert Frost; Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz; Frida Kahlo, Paintings, Photographs, Museum; Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye; Phoebe Gloeckner, Diary of a Teenage Girl; Ridley Scott, Thelma and Louise; Strunk and White, The Elements of Style

The aim of this course is to introduce the tools of literary and cultural criticism.  The course will explore a variety of methods for interpreting a variety of classic works and help students learn how to select the method best suited to the concerns of works from different genres (poetry, painting, photography, memoir, novel, comics, drama).  Since a key to good criticism is a strong narrative voice, we will focus on developing effective rhetorical strategies in weekly posts.

EN 220 B1 Mizruchi

TR 12:30 – 1:45p


Dangerous Hospitality: Guests and Hosts in Literature

The reception and accommodation of the stranger and outsider is a species-specific behavior of homo sapiens which has taken many different forms over the course of human (and literary) history. Our class will examine this phenomena from Homer’s Odyssey to Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, pausing along the way to consider other works whose central dynamic revolves around the precarious interactions of guests and hosts such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Austen’s Emma, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Joyce’s “The Dead.” Hospitality exists in the liminal space between rejection and absorption, and these texts brilliantly explore the tensions inherent in the (attempted) taming of the xenos, an ancient Greek word which tellingly can be translated as “guest,” “friend,” “stranger” or “foreigner.”

EN 220 C1 Voekel

MWF 11:15 – 12:05p


The Boundaries of Life

How do writers create distinctions between lifeless matter and living beings in fictional worlds made out of nothing but marks on a page? And how can we understand matter to either lose or acquire sentience, the ability to feel? Is birth best imagined as sudden “leap” into a “dangerous world,” as William Blake imagines it, or as a chemical phase transition? How does imagining the act of skinning a dead lamb feel different from imagining a blushing, panting sheep being sheared by a shepherd? This course tracks the contrasts writers set up between sensitive, receptive surfaces and the inanimate world.

The course explores five interlocking topics: 1) the philosophical and scientific question of how thinkers have defined “life” and “being” 2) birth, death, and other transitions from being to non-being, or from non-being to being; 3) the joys, disappointments, responsibilities, and tensions between parents and children and how power is negotiated between one generation and the next; 4) individuation and the individual: where an individual begins and ends: how the boundaries of a self are constructed and broken down; 5) the philosophical history of how human beings have been defined in relation to animals, as a way of understanding what happens when we acknowledge or refuse to acknowledge the existence of another being. Authors include Alison Bechdel, Audre Lorde, Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, Thomas Hardy, James Baldwin, and William Shakespeare.

EN 220 D1 Henchman

TR 3:30 – 4:45p


Designing Stories

Stories have designs on you – that is the proposition this course explores. We are interested in the relationship between the shapes and the uses of stories.  We will often take a teller’s perspective, to consider how a particular story goes, and where it aims to take us. We will be studying how stories are engineered, but always bearing in mind that stories, like pieces of music, constitute a temporal art form, shaped by a sequence of authorial decisions. Many stories turn out to be complex conversations about societal values. Readings include Boccaccio, the Grimm brothers, the Arabian Nights, Aesop, and African dilemma tales.

EN 220 E1 Breiner

MWF 2:30 – 3:20p