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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

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Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

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Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Syllabus Sharing?

Posted by Amardeep Singh on 08/29/06 at 10:06 PM

Anyone want to share syllabi? If not full syllabi, how about a selection of books, poems, short stories or films you’re teaching? Anything you’re particularly excited about? If you’re a student, what are you looking forward to reading this fall? (Note: You don’t need to be in literature in either case.)

* * *
I’m excited about a new, introductory-level course I’m teaching, called “Secrecy and Authorship”:

What do we make of authors who are not who they say they are? There have been a number of recent front-page controversies about authors who misrepresented themselves, fooling publishers and readers alike. But such controversies are not new; they have, in fact, been going on for as long as we have had the modern concept of authorship. The concern over the role of the author provokes discussions of anonymous and pseudonymous authors, racial and sexual “passing,” as well as plagiarism. This course will explore controversies of authorship in literary works, contemporary and historical, fictional and nonfictional, analyzing what it is that makes an author an Author. Why do some authors conceal their identities? Where does originality come from? What kinds of borrowings (or influences) are considered legitimate? How might authorship be changing in the digital age?

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
Michael Cunningham, The Hours
Colm Toibin, The Master
Vladimir Nabokov, Despair
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Thomas Mann, “Felix Krull” (short story)
Henry James, “The Aspern Papers”
Nella Larsen, “Passing”
A little dose of Thomas Chatterton, and biographical materials
Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?”
Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”
Denis Dutton, “On Plagiarism and Forgery"

If people have favorite essays either building on or refuting Barthes and Foucault on authorship, I would be grateful. 


I just finished teaching what might be the last college class I ever teach.  It was a fairly insane three-and-a-half week summer course on contemporary multicultural American literature.  Due to the four-day-per-week schedule, I was forced to stick to smaller works, but in the end, I was pretty happy with the syllabus:

Rita Dove, *Thomas & Beulah*
Art Spiegelman, *Maus I*
N. Scott Momaday, *The Way to Rainy Mountain*
Frank Chin, *Chickencoup Chinamen and The Year of the Dragon*
Jessica Hagedorn, *Dogeaters*
Jimmy Santiago Baca, *Martin and Meditations on the South Valley*
Jamaica Kincaid, *Lucy*

**Secondary (I forget some of the exact titles)
Gary Nash, “The Great Multicultural Debate”
Angela Davis essay from *Mapping Multiculturalism*
Arthur Schlesinger, from *The Disuniting of America*
Walter Benn Michaels, “Autobiography of an Ex-White Man”
Margaret Mead, “We Are All Third Generation”
Hannah Arendt’s letter to Gersholm Scholem
Ernest Renan, “What is a Nation?” (and a few paragraphs from Benedict Anderson and others defining nation, state, etc.)
N. Scott Momaday, “The Morality of Indian Hating*
Ernesto Mendieta on Hispanic citizenship from *The Good Citizen*
Samuel Huntington’s essay on immigration and the destruction of American culture
Bharati Mukherjee on hyphenated Americans

By on 08/30/06 at 12:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther, looks like a cool course. Incidentally, I actually spent a good part of my summer reading new Asian American fiction as part of judging the AAWW fiction prize. After the prize is announced, I hope to do a series of posts reviewing the novels I liked on that list.

Also, what are you up to now that you’re leaving academia? I’m also curious about the reason for the change, but feel free to ignore that question.

By Amardeep Singh on 08/30/06 at 08:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks, Amardeep.  I really look forward to your posts on Asian-American fiction.  It’s an area in which I’m sadly ignorant (for example, it was only a month ago that I heard about Monique Truong’s *The Book of Salt* for the first time). 

As far as leaving academia, it’s mostly about: (a) having horrible writing- and publishing-related anxieties; (b) liking teaching over research; (c) wanting to teach near where my wife, a far better scholar than I, already has a tenure-track job.  So I’ve made the move toward high school English education—which means taking some ed credits and taking part in a technology-in-the-classroom research project.

By on 08/30/06 at 10:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, you’re ahead of me. I hadn’t heard of The Book of Salt at all until you mentioned it. An Amazon search later, and I’m going to order it. (It actually might have done nicely in my “Secrecy and Authorship” class; oh well)

Good luck with the transition—I hope we get to hear more about how it goes.

By Amardeep Singh on 08/30/06 at 11:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Amardeep, your syllabus seems incomplete without reference to Ern Malley (or Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake).
Despair seems an odd choice for Nabokov, given the shenanigans in Pnin, Lolita, & Pale Fire.
Going back further, Melville’s The Confidence-Man would seem apposite, especially in the refs to Ossian, Phalaris’ letters ...
Does the dose of Chatterton include Ackroyd?

By nnyhav on 08/30/06 at 11:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If you are going to teach Barthes and Foucault, why not also teach the Wimsatt and Beardsley essay? 

Also Borges’ story “Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote,” seems like it might fit well with the theme of the class.

By on 08/30/06 at 01:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Nnyhav, I had never heard of Ern Malley—thanks for the pointer. I’m exploring the Jacket Magazine site and finding it very relevant to my course. (My favorite thing so far is the title “Angry Penguins,” which is pretty hard to top).

I’m holding off on Ossian, though I’d heard the name mentioned some when I was preparing this course. I really just wanted to do a sampling of an earlier fake (imposter) to give students a sense that it isn’t new. It’s an introductory class (and Lehigh students tend to rebel if you overload them with reading), so I’m not even pretending to be thorough. Still, I might consider giving them some snippets of Melville and Carey now that you mention it.

My biography of Chatterton is an old Freudian thing by Louise Kaplan, and probably not as good as Ackroyd.

Blah, Wimsatt and Beardsley is a good suggestion. I must admit that though I happily use terms like “Intentional Fallacy” and “Affective Fallacy,” I’ve never read the essays where the concepts were first formulated. Wikipedia says the two are in “Verbal Icon”; are they by chance anthologized anywhere else?

Thanks again, guys. These are great suggestions. 

By Amardeep Singh on 08/30/06 at 02:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Amardeep, both essays are widely anthologized.  They’re in the Richter and I’m pretty sure The Norton,too.

On another note, I’d love to start a syllabus warehouse, like the one the American Studies people have.  Hm...future project?  (I have about 15 of my own I could, and would happily, contribute.) I’d had another idea, about a year ago, to do regular “syllabi reviews” of the sort you’ve started here.  I think we ought to make a new category and run with it.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/30/06 at 03:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Amardeep, one more suggestion, though I agree that with any syllabus, even on the narrowest of topics, anything resembling “completeness” is impossible from the start.

In any case, thinking about Asian/Asian-American lit, do you know about the Araki Yasusada “hoax”?  Kent Johnson, an experimental poet, is laregely believed to be behind it.  In the early 90s, Johnson published a series of poems under the name of Yasusada, who wrote as a survivor of the atomic attacks on Japan. 

The poetry is top-notch avant-garde work, and it raises the serious issues surrounding witness poetry and identity politics/identity poetics. 

You can read more at Al Filreis’s U of Penn poetry website:


[Oddly, the code below for submitting this comment is “nuclear 75"]

By on 08/30/06 at 07:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The syllabus looks great, and it’s such a good idea for a class. I’ve edited a 600-line 13th-c. Anglo-Norman prologue to a massive sermon collection in which the writer declares that he’s not naming his name, just yet ("mun nun ne uoil encore numer"), because he wants to put the envious off his scent ("deshicer"). He says this around v. 136, but about 500 lines later, he gives his name: Robert of Greatham. Whoever he was. Why’d he do that?

I know it’s unfair of a medievalist to make suggestions (in part because I’m going ‘Coim Tobin’? Who he? She?), but we have some marvellous stuff to offer. There’s the tendency to gain authority (or make a joke) by ascribing your work to an imaginary authority (like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s old book that was his source for his History of the Kings of Britain, or Chaucer’s Lollius, responsible for his Troilus and Criseyde, or, for that matter, Joseph Smith’s Golden Tablets); there are pseudonyms aplenty (like Heldris of Cornwall, who wrote the fantastic cross-dressing chivalric Roman de Silence, who, writing in Poitevin French (iirc), certainly wasn’t from Cornwall, but had reasons (fashion), to make his (her?) claim; and, perhaps strangest of all, there’s the Jewish convert (apostate?) Peter Alfonsi, who in his Dialogue Against the Jews engages in a debate with a Jew, Moses, about the relative merits of their two faiths. Not an uncommon genre in the Middle Ages; but Moses is Peter’s pre-conversion self. He’s debating himself, and he fails, insofar as Moses never converts. Steven Kruger discusses this work in his excellent The Spectral Jew (Minneapolis, 2006).

By on 08/30/06 at 09:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh! Not that you’re looking for suggestions for primary texts, but if you teach the course again, I just thought of one: Rigoberta Menchu.

And I showed this post to my wife, she immediately suggested several more, for various reasons:
Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird
Isaac Babel
Gunter Grass, whose autobiography has interesting omissions
The Waste Land (Pound v. Eliot as author)
Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey

She, Alison (neither grouchy nor a medievalist), adds, “I would also add a unit on women whose authorship is contested, like Harper Lee or Beryl Markham, and include a discussion on Phyllis Wheatley (what is your authorship when it’s given to you by masters?). And of course Frankenstein, with Percey’s preface and Mary Shelley’s revisions after her husband’s death.” To which I add: Christine de Pizan, whose military manuals, when translated into English in the later 15th c., were stripped of her name, because of course no woman could have written such things.

By on 08/30/06 at 09:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The best book about Ern Malley is by Michael Heyward, it is called The Ern Malley Affair

Another major Australian literary identity scandal, from the mid 1990s, is associated with the name Helen Demidenko and her holocaust novel The Hand That Signed the Paper.  She pretended to be of Ukranian extraction and that somehow made it acceptable for her to write a novel which more more or less exculpates Ukranian participation in nazism and the holocaust.

I am teaching three courses at the moment and sadly the one i’m in love with myself is not going down too well with the students, who are finding it ‘boring’...it is an introduction to narrative course, themed around journeys, travel writing, biography, doubles, and most of all around the way literature connects and connects.

The Odyssey
The Pilgrim’s Progress
The Secret Sharer
Travels With a Donkey (and Footsteps, by Richard Holmes)
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
The Rings of Saturn
Vurt (Jeff Noon)

By on 08/30/06 at 09:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Isn’t “syllabuses” better, really?

By Jonathan Goodwin on 08/30/06 at 11:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan, as a good conservative, I deeply oppose the syllabusing of students.

By on 08/30/06 at 11:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Isn’t “syllabuses” better, really?

Syllabi depends on whether that neologism syllabus is imitating a 2nd or 4th declension noun, right?

I’m inclined to go with syllabus.

By on 08/31/06 at 08:42 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Laura, just warning you—when I taught Possession a couple of years ago, it went down like a lead balloon. Maybe Australian students have more tolerance for pedantry interspersed with purple prose, but my students—all women, in that class—seemed to want to throw the novel into the nearest available recycling bin. (Good luck!)

Karl, do thank Alison for me. Beryl Markham and Harper Lee is an interesting lead. It might make sense to add in an excerpt from “A Room of One’s Own” where Woolf talks about precedents—and refer to some of the other controversies there.

I’ve also been debating getting into “Anonymous was a woman,” but I gather there are some controversies there and it’s beyond my historical comfort zone.

And yes, how can one not talk about Gunter Grass a bit this fall?

By Amardeep Singh on 08/31/06 at 10:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

...for pedantry interspersed with purple prose...

Thank you for saying this, Amardeep.  I’ve never understood what people saw in that novel; I far prefer The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, Angels & Insects, &c.  In fact, so many people have touted Possession so highly over the years that I’ve grown to loathe the book, so my position may be a little reactionary.  Still, I just don’t get the Possession infatuation.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/31/06 at 01:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

pedantry interspersed with purple prose, hmm? and seconded with thanks, no less?  Anyone else want to join in? 

Suppose I should have tried to teach them about how crap 70s literary theory is or something.

By on 08/31/06 at 05:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I didn’t say “A.S. Byatt is crap,” only that “The novel of hers everyone seems to love is criminally overrated and pales in comparison to her other books.” I’m surprised you like it more than the Austen-esque Frederica Quartet, compared to which Possession seems thin, superficial and painfully overwrought.  I think Amardeep and I in the minority on this point; but I don’t think I’m wrong.  De gustibus, I guess ...

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/31/06 at 06:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m sorry, I can’t accept that.  If you’re going to write the book off you have to do it more convincingly than by tossing off a sneering remark about personal taste (as if there was something wrong with mine, for heavens’ sake.)

By on 08/31/06 at 07:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sneering?  More like “conciliatory,” but that’s beside the point.  I’m not impugning your taste, which is why I said “Amardeep and I are in the minority.” Everyone always takes the brilliance of Possession as self-evident.  I read it, was deeply unimpressed, and wondered why people prefer it to her other work.  I could outlne the problems I had with it, from the parodic application of literary theory to life on the part of Mitchell and Bailey to the stereotypical description of Victorian life--the pressures of which conform to the very oppressions she parodied the contemporary couple for feeling.  Then there’s that final conversation between Maud and Roland, in which they dance around the word “possession” like good Victorians; which would be fine, if they were cognizant of their own imbrication in the (Victorian) discourse they study.  Instead, they’re the consummate literary theorists ... which should lead to some meaningful introspection, of the sort Ash and LaMotte seemed capable of.  But it shifts back to parody, with Maud as the feminist who can’t “feel,” only “analyze,” yet is moved by the norms she should be able to analyze through.  Yes, this is off-the-cuff; perhaps I’ll write something more about what bothers me about the book.  I’m well aware that what irks me--much of which is because it’s too contrived, too clever by half--are features of the text.  I get that, but I also think they don’t click, even if I’ve never taken the time to figure out why.

Yes, I should probably think this through and post something about it.  It’s something that’s bothered me for dog’s years; an unsatisfactory conversation I’ve had a thousand times, and will have a thousand more unless I can state, with certainty, The Case Against Possession.  (I would’ve done so already, but I’m much more fond of stating The Case for Angels & Insects, Babel Tower, &c.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/31/06 at 08:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Amardeep, for authorship readings, one great collection is Seán Burke’s Authorship from Plato to the Postmodern. Also, Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” would be a good counterpoint to Barthes and Foucault.

By Clancy Ratliff on 09/01/06 at 12:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Bronte’s Villette, is highly secretive and withholds key information from the reader. I think the class sounds very interesting.

By on 06/30/10 at 05:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m half a decade late in tooth in commenting here, but as I’ve just discovered the site…

This semester, we focused on the bildungsroman, and the reading list was as follows:

Burnett’s The Secret Garden
Stevenson’s Treasure Island
Waters’s Tipping the Velvet
McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
Thompson’s Blankets
Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go
Dickens’s Great Expectations

By on 05/03/11 at 12:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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