Fall 2020 - ENGL 115W D100

Literature and Culture (3)

Class Number: 4244

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 9 – Dec 8, 2020: Tue, 9:30–10:20 a.m.

    Sep 9 – Dec 8, 2020: Thu, 9:30–10:20 a.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 15, 2020
    Tue, 12:00–2:00 p.m.



An Introduction to the study of literature within the wider cultural field, with a focus on contemporary issues across genres and media. Students with credit for ENGL 105W may not take this course for further credit. Writing/Breadth-Humanities.


Getting It: Discovery and Recognition from Sophocles to Swift

Understanding is strange. 

In one moment, there’s something you’re just not “getting.” In the next, you’ve got it. What happens there?

Evidently, some kind of experience. But not the kind that you make happen—like lifting your arm, or throwing a party. Rather, the kind that happens to you: like getting washed by a wave, or falling in love. Sure, you can make yourself try to understand something. But you can’t just make yourself understand it.

Since ancient times, the mystery of understanding has been explored in Western drama, poetry, and fiction. Under two main headings: discovery, and recognition. When we finally “get” something, is that because we have been exposed to new data (discovery)? Or is it because we have grasped, in a new way, the data that was already there (recognition)? And either way—what is this experience like?

These questions, ancient though they be, have acquired a new urgency today--when algorithms and robots are, supposedly, poised to do our understanding for us!

In this course, we'll try to understand some things about understanding itself. We will do this by reading and discussing:
  • Homer, The Odyssey (ca. 700 BC)
  • Sophocles, Oedipus Rex (ca. 350 BC)
  • Shakespeare, King Lear (ca. 1600)
  • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1735)
All of these texts, in the correct editions, should be available for purchase through SFU Bookstore, in digital format.


  • Familiarity with the hermeneutic tradition from ancient times until modernity.
  • Improved capacity for critical thinking about information technology.
  • Improved acuity of written expression.


  • 3 very short "interest" papers (1-2 pages each) 15%
  • Attendance and participation 10%
  • Term paper (6 pages) 30%
  • Final exam (2 hours) 30%
  • Creative project 15%



The delivery method for this course in Fall 2020 is, obviously, going to differ from the norm. I am very sorry about that, because I like the norm (a great big hall full of students). However, there is nothing we can do. We will be relying pretty heavily on SFU’s Learning Management System, Canvas, which (in my experience) is very user-friendly. Via our course’s Canvas page, you can expect to watch lectures by me—probably recorded, that is, not in real time—and also to participate in real-time tutorial discussions. You can also expect me to be available and accessible to each and every one of you via email, Canvas message, and videoconference. My pledge to you is to make the course work.


(1) The first assignment for this course will consist of three very short "interest" papers--just 1-2 pages each. In each IP, you should (i) say something that has struck or bugged or pleased you in any of the course materials up to that point. Call that your Interest. (ii) Share some thoughts or feelings about your Interest. (iii) Say where your work on this IP has led you. What's the result? Revise your approach in accordance with instructor feedback.

(2) Prompts will be provided for the Term Paper. You will need to make a productive, linear argument. Secondary research is neither expected nor encouraged.

(3) Expectations for the Final Exam will be made clear well in advance. Anybody who has done the readings, come to class, paid attention, etc., can do well on the Final.

(4) The Creative Project is wide-open, and low-pressure. We will discuss this in the first few weeks of the course.


Our four main course texts should be available for purchase, in digital format, from the SFU Bookstore. (See “required reading” below.) They should not be very expensive. You can of course also get these texts, on paper or screen, from Amazon, Kindle, or whatever. PLEASE note, however, that it is very important that you get the right edition! Otherwise it will just be awfully difficult for you to follow along with the lectures. (I mean for example you will get confused about what page you are supposed to be on—basic and crucial stuff like that.) By the same token, it is not a good idea just to Google the texts. Please trust me on this!

I look forward to seeing you, sort of, in September. Best wishes, JDF


Attendance, attention, and all the usual stuff.



The four main course texts will be available for purchase, in digital format, via the SFU Bookstore. Any and all supplementary materials will be made available by the instructor on the course Canvas page, as weblink or .pdf.


William Shakespeare, The History of King Lear: The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press (2008).
ISBN: 9780199535828

Sophocles, Three Tragedies. University of Chicago Press (2013).
ISBN: 9780226311517

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, ed. Allan Ingram. Broadview Press (2012).
ISBN: 9781551119793

Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Emily Wilson. Norton and Co. (2018).
ISBN: 9780393356250

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://www.sfu.ca/students/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


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).