Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Spring 2021 Course Descriptions on Tolkien and Contemporary Literature!

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ENGLISH 4612/5612: J.R.R. TOLKIEN
DISCOVERY TIER: INDIVIDUALS & COMMUNITIES
ENGLISH PERIODIZATION REQ: POST-1900
MODALITY: FULLY ONLINE

The last decade has seen the hundredth anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s earliest writings on Middle-Earth (The Book of Lost Tales, begun in 1917) alongside the completion of Peter Jackson’s career-defining twenty-year project to adapt The Lord of the Rings for film (1995-2015). This course asks the question: Who is J.R.R. Tolkien, looking backward from the perspective of the twenty-first century? Why have his works, and the genre of heroic fantasy which he remade so completely in his image, remained so intensely popular, even as the world has transformed around them? Our study will primarily trace the history, development, and reception of Tolkien’s incredible magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings (written 1937-1949, published 1954-1956)—but we will also take up Tolkien’s contested place in the literary canon of the twentieth century, the uses and abuses of Tolkien in Jackson’s blockbuster films, the special appeal of Tolkien in politically troubled times, and the ongoing critical interests and investments of Tolkien fandom today. As Tolkien scholars we will also have the privilege of drawing upon the remarkable J.R.R. Tolkien Collection at Raynor Library, which contains the original manuscripts for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Farmer Giles of Ham.

Note: No prior knowledge of Tolkien is required. The course is designed for a mix of first-time readers, frequent re-readers, and people who are returning to the books for the first time as adults after many years away.

Readings: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and selected additional readings

Assignments: final critical paper or creative project; weekly sandbox posts on D2L; two “thinkpiece”-style mini-papers; enthusiastic and informed class participation

ENGLISH 4563/5363: LITERATURES OF THE 21st CENTURY
THEMATIC TITLE: CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE
DISCOVERY TIER: none
ENGLISH PERIODIZATION REQ: POST-1900
MODALITY: FULLY ONLINE

Giorgio Agamben writes: “The poet—the contemporary—must firmly hold his gaze on his own time. But what does he who sees his time actually see? What is this demented grin on the face of his century? … The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light but rather its darkness.” This course takes up major literary and mass-media works of the twenty-first century, including short stories, comics, novels, films, music videos, and games, with an eye towards understanding Agamben’s future-facing call “to perceive, in the darkness of the present, this light that strives to reach us but cannot.” The book list is still in flux (and suggestions are welcome!) but focuses on works published in the last ten years; major texts will likely include Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown, Vol. 1 (2019), Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2014), N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (2015), and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (2021).

Assignments: final critical paper or creative project; weekly sandbox posts on D2L; two “thinkpiece”-style mini-papers; enthusiastic and informed class participation

Written by gerrycanavan

October 4, 2020 at 3:48 pm

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