“We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life,/Is rounded with a sleep.”
- William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Introduction: The word “rhetoric” often has a negative connotation. People often associate it with duplicity and sophistry, with conmen and charlatans. And yet rhetoric – the art and science of being able to communicate well – is the very medium in which culture operates. Abraham Lincoln’s commemoration of the soldiers at Gettysburg, Emily Dickinson’s addressing personified Death, and the dialogue of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet are not just examples of poetry but also of rhetoric. In this class we will work to both analyze what operates well in examples of great rhetoric and also how to improve our own writing. We will consider important works of classical and contemporary literature and we will respond to them. In the spirit of the previous examples we will be analyzing writing about what I’ve termed “the important stuff,” that is war, love, death, and everything else. This is not necessarily a value judgment on what’s important to write about, but one could argue that such heightened topics lend themselves to a particular intensity of composition. Finally, the ultimate purpose of this course is to help you improve your writing, to be able to better communicate your own “important stuff.” There are only two full-proof ways this has ever been done, through continually writing and through reading, reciprocal acts that cannot be separated. In this class we will be doing both.
World Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Same Leith
The Vintage Book of War Fiction: From Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway to Pat Barker and Tim O’Brien edited by Sebastian Faulks
My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Checkhov to Munro edited by Jeffrey Eugenides
death poems edited by Russ Kick
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt (Recommended, not required)
Note: We will not be reading any of these books in their entirety, though there may be assignment prompts based on readings from these books which you have not done.
Schedule of readings and assignments
All readings and assignments due on the date that is indicated
(Note: This is a tentative schedule, and it is subject to change).
Unit One: War
Tuesday January 14th – Introduction to course.
Thursday January 15th –Read from Words like Loaded Pistols (pp. 1- 71), also take a moment to browse the glossary in the back of the book.
Tuesday January 21st – Read from (to be supplied by me) Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives us Meaning (1-61) and Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story” in The Vintage Book of War Fiction (306-320).
Thursday January 23rd – Read Elizabeth Bowen’s “Everybody in London was in Love” (150-156), KurtVonnegut’s “A Nazi City Mourned at Some Profit” (289-291) and Martin Booth’s “Hiroshima Joe” (230-240) all in The Vintage Book of War Fiction.
Tuesday January 28th – Read John Horn Burns’ “My Heart Finally Broke in Naples” (270-282) in The Vintage Book of War Fiction and from (to be supplied by me) Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives us Meaning (62-82). FIRST TEST
Thursday January 30th – Read Willfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” (172) and “Dulce et Decorum Est” (172-3) and Agi Mishol’s “Woman Martyr” (197-8) all from death poems as well as Brian Turner’s “Here, Bullet” and Martin Espada’s “Alabanza – In Praise of Local 100” (both to be supplied by me).
Tuesday February 4th – No class: pre-scheduled mandatory conferences with me.
Wednesday February 5th – Showing of Terrence Mallick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) at 7PM in Drown. Note: You have the option to watch the film on your own, but you must watch the film before the next class.
Thursday February 6th – Read James Jones’ “No Choice” from The Vintage Book of War Fiction (205-218) and watch Terrence Mallick’s The Thin Red Line (1998).
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 7h – FIRST PAPER DUE IN MY MAILBOX BY NOON
Unit Two: Love
Tuesday February 11th – Read from Words Like Loaded Pistols (81-104).
Thursday February 13th – Read “Vortices of Love” (1-39) in Ilan Stavans and Veronica Albin’s Love and Language to be supplied by me.
Tuesday February 18th – Read Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Introduction” (ix-xviii) and John Cheever’s “What we Talk About When We Talk About Love” (489-501) in My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead.
Thursday February 20st – SECOND TEST. Read Dennis Johnson’s “Dirty Wedding” (104-110) and Gilbert Sorrentino’s “The Moon in Flight” both in My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead.
Tuesday February 25th – Read Lorrie Moore’s “How to be the Other Woman” (251-268) and William Trevor’s “Lovers of their Time” (189-209) in My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead.
Thursday February 27th – Read William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” (52-61) and Bernard Malamud’s “The Magic Barrel” (471-488) in My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead.
Tuesday March 4th – NO CLASS: SPRING BREAK
Thursday March 6th – NO CLASS: SPRING BREAK
Tuesday March 11th – Read “Love and Poetry” (82-119) in Ilan Stavans’ and Veronica Albin’s Love and Language (to be supplied by me) along with William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 66” (124-5), Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” (126-7), John Donne’s “The Relique” (129), and Rita Mae Reese’s“You Bring out the Dead in Me” (144) all in death poems. This selection is liable to change.
Wednesday March 12th – Showing of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) at 7PM in Drown. Note: You have the option to watch the film on your own, but you must watch the film before the next class.
Thursday March 13th – Watch Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) and read Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” (202), “Elegy” by Chidiock Tickborne (217), “Of Him I Love Day and Night” (244-5) by Walt Whitman, Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (288-9), and Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” (292) all in death poems.
FRIDAY MARCH 14th – SECOND PAPER DUE IN MY MAILBOX BY NOON
Unit Three: Death
Tuesday March 18th – Read from Words Like Loaded Pistols (119-146).
Thursday March 20st – Read Diane Ackerman’s “Silence and Awakening” (121-131) and Christopher Sorrentino’s “Death in the Age of Digital Proliferation, and Other Considerations” (155-169) from The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death (to be supplied by me).
Tuesday March 25th – A selection of poetry from death poems (to be announced beforehand by me) as well as well as a selection from Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry (3-78) to be supplied by me.
Thursday March 27th – Read Kyoko Mori’s “”Between the Forest and the Well: Notes on Death” (33-49) and Annie Dillard’s “This is the Life” (324-328) from The Inevitable to be supplied by me. THIRD TEST
Tuesday April 1st – A selection of all Emily Dickinson poems from death poems as well as a selection from Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson to be supplied by me.
Thursday April 3rd – Selections from Simon Critchley’s The Book of Dead Philosophers to be supplied by me.
Tuesday April 8th – A selection of poetry from death poems as well as a viewing of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode Nothing in the Dark (1962) and an essay from Lapham’s Quarterly (link to be supplied by me).
MONDAY APRIL 9th – THIRD PAPER DUE IN MY MAILBOX BY NOON
Unit Four: Everything Else
Thursday April 10th – Read from Words Like Loaded Pistols (147-190).
Tuesday April 15th – Read from Words Like Loaded Pistols (191-280).
Thursday April 17th – Why does stuff exist? FOURTH TEST
Tuesday April 22nd –Read from Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? (1-35) and (243-280).
Thursday April 24th – Wrap up of class.
FRIDAY APRIL 25th – FOURTH PAPER DUE IN MY MAILBOX BY NOON