Sem in CW: Realistic Fiction and Its Alternatives (CW/LSE)

This course is a close study of modes of narration in
contemporary fiction. “Realism” here indicates a reliance on an objective and
verifiable notion of reality in the construction of fictional worlds. The
varieties of dissent from this mode of narration—modernism, postmodernism,
magic realism—then represent a departure from this feeling of certitude. This
does not mean that these dissenting modes of narration give up a claim on
reality, only perhaps that their approach is more anxious, more tentative.
Thus, at bottom, this course is an exploration of techniques in the
representation of reality as exemplified by a variety of works in contemporary literatures
of the world.

This is an advanced course in reading for creative writers
(though because of the presence of some critical material, students not on the
creative writing track may also be interested in taking it). It is not a fiction
workshop, though I do mean it to be of practical use—we will spend some time
reading student’s work in class. My purpose is to explore with the students the
different modes of narration available to them as writers of fiction and to get
them to reflect on the choices they themselves make in their writing. What
kinds of resources does each mode of narration offer the writer? What have been
the dominant modes, when, where, and why? 
These questions will be approached both in a practical way and as
objects of critical reflection. Thus the fiction we read will be approached
from the point of view of both technique and critical debate; and students will
be assigned “practical” essays/statements/manifestos from novelists like Henry
James, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie as well as critical considerations of
realism and alternatives to realism by critics such as Raymond Williams.

Required Texts (available at Revolution Books, 2626 So
King St., between Puck’s Alley and 7-11, except for course packet):

1. E. M. Forster, A Passage to India

2. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

3. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

4. Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

5. Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman

6. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

7. Daniel Halpern, The Art of the Tale

8. Course Packet (available at EMA Campus Copy Center)


Assignments and Class Work:

There will be 5 assigned activities through the semester.

Students in the course will do two short papers—(1)
one analyzing one of the readings for the semester (no more than five pages,
also to be presented in class on the day the reading is assigned) and (2)
a short story (no more than five pages, to be distributed to the entire class)
written in a specific mode of narration. For non-creative writing students, the
latter paper may be substituted in an appropriate way. At the end of the
semester, students will write a (3) twenty-page paper, which can take
one of many forms:  a reflection on
practical aspects of the craft of fiction as it intersects with the concerns of
the course; a “straight” critical term paper on some topic concerning realism
and alternative modes of narration (this option might be especially attractive
to non-creative writing students); a longer work of fiction, if supplemented
with a commentary that relates the fiction to the concerns of the course. This
longer paper may be an extension/revision of what is submitted under (1) or

In addition, students making presentations on readings will
(4) post two brief “Points to Ponder” through the discussions feature of
Laulima no later than the morning of the Monday before the class meets. This is
meant to facilitate discussion on the day of the meeting as well as to allow
the discussion to continue beyond.

(5) Students will collectively choose 6 to 8 stories
from the assigned anthology and lead discussion in class. Groups of students
will be expected to take responsibility for different selections but no formal
presentation is necessary for this activity.