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New English Courses!

By Sean Zwagerman

July 08, 2016

If you look at our Fall 2016 English courses, you will notice something different: our genre-based first-year courses are gone! Where did they go? Who’s responsible? And what the heck is “Literature Now”?

Well it all started in December 2013, at an English Department faculty “retreat” (aka, an all-day meeting at a hotel conference room in New Westminster). We decided there that the first-year courses were getting a little stale, and while genre categories allow us to study one kind of literature intensively, they do not invite us to look at themes or motives across different genres.

So how, we asked, might we define and distinguish our first-year courses using something other than genre distinctions? What sort of thematic categories might we come up with? Well, after exhaustive discussion at many department meetings—resolving such critical concerns as whether English 115 should be called Literature and Culture, Literature and Cultures, or Literatures and Cultures—we arrived at the following replacements for English 101W – 105W:

Allow me to elaborate.

Literary Classics can be taught a couple of different ways. The instructor may take the title quite literally and teach a selection of literary greatest hits; in the Fall, Professor Budra is teaching Hamlet, The Wasteland, Waiting for Godot, and others, while Dr. Capperdoni’s course at the Surrey campus includes Wuthering Heights and Dracula. Or, the course might start with a classic text—say The Odyssey—and then move on to adaptations, retellings, or even parodies of that influential classic.

In either case, Literary Classics will address the issue of “the classics:” how does a book become a classic? Who decides? Who doesn’t? Are the classics really superior, and what does that mean? Which books have not become classics and why? Here’s a fun truth-or-dare style game to play with your fellow English students: which famous book or author that every English major should read have you not read? I, for example, have never read a single thing by—no, I just can’t bring myself to admit it.

Who wants literature?

We do!

When do you want it?

Now!

Yes, it’s Literature Now. Like Literary Classics, this title can be understood in different ways (that’s English for you). It can refer to contemporary literature, or it can refer to how we interpret literature now—we don’t talk about, say, The Canterbury Tales in the same way people did 200, 100, or even 20 years ago. For example, there’s a lot of talk in English today about the body, as you will see and hear—and perhaps smell, touch, and taste—in Professor Kim’s ENGL 112W course entitled “Knowing Through the Body.”

You might think Literature and Performance is just the old Introduction to Drama in a new wrapper. And you’re sort of right. But you’re not totally right (that’s English for you). For while this may be taught as a drama course (see Professor Solomon’s course on drama and gender), other versions of ENGL 113W may address films and screenplays (see Professor St. Pierre’s course, “Screenwriting, Performance, and Visual Culture”) or might use “performance” as an interpretive lens, as a way of understanding roles, actions, motives, and scenes across different genres and in real life. As the sociologist Erving Goffman and the rhetorician Kenneth Burke recognized, we go through our day performing roles for various audiences—audiences composed of other actors like ourselves.

Although all uses of language, including fiction and poetry, presuppose purpose, Language and Purpose will usually focus on the “other” literature: explicitly purposeful non-fiction. ENGL 114W might address political arguments, revolutionary manifestos, or biographies and autobiographies. It may be, as it will be next semester, an opportunity for one of the rhetoricians in the department to manipulate impressionable young minds—I mean, to introduce students to the analysis of some classic and not-so-classic attempts to influence public opinion on some important issue. That iteration of ENGL 114W will be called “Language and Persuasion: From Plato to Trump.”

Literature and Culture is a holdover from the previous curriculum, getting a new number (115W instead of 105W) and losing the “Introduction to.” If someone wants to teach a poetry course, they will probably do so as 115W. In the Fall, Professor Derksen will teach this course as “The City in Literature.” And really, since culture is where language and literature live, all English classes could be called Literature (or Language) and Culture. So look for this course to vary greatly from semester to semester, depending on the expertise and the interests of the person teaching it.

We hope these new titles will be coherent yet capacious containers for introducing students to some small aspect of the vast scene of English. And since all these course are writing-intensive, they satisfy part of your W requirement and—more importantly—will help you become a more confident and effective writer.

But wait! While we’re here, let me introduce you to some more new English classes which will be showing up over the next few semesters! They are:

ENGL 208, 21st Century Literatures in English

ENGL 398, Major Authors for Non-Majors (tell all your literature-loving friends languishing in the business department!)

ENGL 385, Across Time, Across Space

ENGL 363, Studies in Digital Humanities: Theory and Practice

ENGL 484, Topics in Media, Culture, and Performance

We will also be simplifying the prerequisites for our upper-division courses so you can proceed through your degree more efficiently!

As always, if you have any questions, please contact our Undergraduate Advisor Kathy Ward or me, Sean Zwagerman.

I am interested broadly in rhetoric and writing, in the compositional relationship among the word, the self, and the world. My particular interests include the intersections of rhetorical theory and speech-act theory, the rhetoric of humour, and public outrage about plagiarism and student literacy. Forthcoming work includes contributions to a collection of essays on the rhetoric of oil and to a collection on transgressive women’s humour, as well as a book-length project using speech-act theory to define the limits of rhetoric and clarify criteria of success and failure.