Spring 2018 - ENGL 114W D100

Language and Purpose (3)

Class Number: 1398

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 11:30 AM – 12:20 PM
    SSCB 9200, Burnaby

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 22, 2018
    3:30 PM – 6:30 PM
    RCB IMAGTH, Burnaby

  • Instructor:

    Matthew Hussey
    Office: AQ6140
    Office Hours: T+Th 12:30-1:30



Introduces students to the relationships between writing and purpose, between the features of texts and their meaning and effects. May focus on one or more literary or non-literary genres, including (but not limited to) essays, oratory, autobiography, poetry, and journalism. Includes attention to writing skills. Students with credit for ENGL 104W may not take this course for further credit. Writing/Breadth-Humanities.


English 114 Language and Purpose  

“The mind—the culture—has two little tools, grammar and lexicon: a decorated sand bucket and a matching shovel. With these we bluster about the continents and do all the world’s work. With these we try to save our very lives.” --Annie Dillard  

In an essay on watching a total solar eclipse in 1978, Annie Dillard proposes language as a kind of kiddy toy with which we as people, we as individuals, understand the world and do things in it. It’s a grand claim, maybe even a bit much. And yet, her writing undercuts this pretension. The sentences balance the vast sweep of some global beach, infinite in sand, with our mind’s and culture’s rinky-dink plastic scoop and pail. The pathetic insufficiency is grimly funny: cosmic importance against a three-dollar plaything from Canadian Tire. The echoing blowhard alliteration between ‘bucket’ and ‘bluster’ shows how loudly we fail, while the repeated ‘With these…’ reenacts the trite proverb ‘Try, try again.” And yet, even as her carefully crafted sentences reveal that language just isn’t up to the task, these sentences get the job done: the images, sounds, contrasts, patterns reveal language’s ability to make an idea resonant, compelling, and clear. The world is huge and complex and language merely gives us little lenses and angles to gain insight. The bitterly laughable bucket and shovel built an idea’s sand castle on the shore.  

Ideas, emotions, attitudes, arguments, and understandings come about through the artful and deliberate craft of writing. In this course, we will read a wide range of literary texts—essays, poems, short stories, a (short!) novel and a play—and work on learning how to read them carefully and closely to see what they do, how they work, and how they mean. The attention to language will raise a related cluster of questions: What is literary language? How does literary language work? What does literary language do? In asking these questions, we might also be asking what does language do? How does it work? What is it for? To answer these questions, we will come at language not just as readers, but as writers.


Writing is a way to think and a way to communicate this thinking. For the course, we will try out and practice both academic writing and public writing. Of course there will be an analytic essay, with a specific thesis and careful scrutiny of evidence. Mastering such a form is crucial to a university education. The course will also include work on critical forms of public writing: statements, essays, or explorations rooted in our readings, but designed to be read beyond the university.  

Readings for the course will be diverse: essays by David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, and others; short stories by Thomas King, Ursula LeGuin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and more; Henry James’ classic ghost story Turn of the Screw; Shakespearean comedy; and poems by many. Through these many authors and genres, students will encounter the major literary forms and be introduced to numerous historical periods, movements, and genres. Writing assignments will be equally diverse: possibilities include argumentative interpretive essays, reflective memoir, blog posts, podcasts, and creative responses. The writing will be taught through repeated low-stakes experiments, the processes of revision, and peer group workshopping. The aim is to develop writing as a critical and analytic craft, one which clarifies and develops ideas clearly and usefully.


  • Argument Summary (1-2 pages) 10%
  • Close Reading (2-3 pages) 15%
  • Interpretive Argument (4-5 pages) 25%
  • Public Writing (1200-1500 words) 25%
  • Final Exam 15%
  • Attendance, preparation, participation 10%



Henry James, Turn of the Screw (Dover 1991)
ISBN: 9780486266848

William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream (Dover 1992)
ISBN: 9780486270678

Other editions of these two longer texts are easy to find, and you may use them instead, but you must have a copy of each of these texts to bring to lecture and tutorial.  

There will be many other texts for the class. Almost all of these are available freely online, but they will also be made available on Canvas. You must bring a hard paper copy of the assigned texts to lecture and tutorial, so please print one out and bring to class. Laptops, tablets, and smart phones will not be allowed in lecture or tutorial, so a paper copy is necessary. Likewise, bring a notebook and a pen/pencil for writing and note-taking.

Numerous texts, mostly poetry, as well as any other additional materials will be assigned as the course develops, alongside the main readings. These too will be made available on Canvas.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html