American Prose (Excluding Fiction)

L360 — Spring 2020

Dana Anderson
Days and Times
11:15-12:30 MW
Course Description

TOPIC: “The Arguing ‘I’: The Rhetoric and Poetics of the Personal in Contemporary Literature”

Western culture has never felt more saturated with what we might call “the personal”: narratives of individual experiences both grand and mundane, disclosures of intimacies that both shock and enthrall us simultaneously, and, Oh! the ubiquitous visual documentation of our every waking moment, be it selfied, snapchatted, or streamed! Ours is a historical moment of unparalleled openness across our many textualities. Some of us rejoice, revel, and even profit in this. Others choke back the persistent and vague nausea of an equally vague malady—the condition of feeling sick of ourselves.

During our semester together, we will treat this explosion of the person-made-public as a call to reflection. Through a variety of approaches to first-person discourse (or autobiographical discourse), we will explore both how selves are created in language (a poetics of the personal) and why these selves are created as they are (a rhetoric of the personal). We will take as given that the creators of first-person discourse do so not merely to share or to tell “true” tales of experience; rather, sharing and “truth,” like other effects of language, are means through which authors pursue specific goals and ambitions in the world at which they aim their storied selves.

Our readings will be unapologetically eclectic, ensuring that we indulge the widest possible range of genres, approaches, and authors. Canonical figures such as Montaigne, Augustine, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, along with the genres of autobiography, personal essay, and apologia they epitomize, will be pushed into (likely uncomfortable) proximity with Tik Tok and with million-subscriber YouTube channels of unboxing videos. Which I still can’t believe is a thing. Put another way, the diversity of our texts and their authors will ensure that questions of historical, cultural, and individual diversity are naturally at the foreground of our work.

Our assignments will be similarly wide-ranging, culminating in a student project of first-person proportions. Please email Dana Anderson if you have any questions about the course. He’d be happy to chat.