ACL 1001 READING CONTEMPORARY FICTION Coordinator: Dr Rose Lucas All powerpoint slides from lectures will be available at
Reading Contemporary Fiction In this unit, we will be reading and discussing literature published after 1970, and reading books that challenge traditional ideas about ‘great literature’. The ‘great texts’ have also been defined as making up the literary canon. The ‘literary canon’ is a collection of literature deemed to be ‘good’ based on particular societal values. What kind of literature do you think makes up ‘the canon?
Why Contemporary Fiction? The interesting thing about the formation of a literary canon of ‘great and serious works is that it tends to omit the experiences of people who were unable to gain a literary audience before the middle of the 20 th Century. What kind of authors do you imagine have been left out of the literary canon? Is this a problem?
The Literary Canon and Cultural Studies What is important to realise is that the literary canon intimates that ‘great works’ are only: Written by certain people (Educated, middle-class, heterosexual, white, often men) About certain topics (The world, war, the human condition, love, loss, death) And in certain ways (Written following the conventions of realism: texts that follow beginning, middle and end or conflict, climax, resolution patterns )
Literature and Cultural Studies The are two major problems of defining ‘great works’ in this way. We are privileging a small and select group of authors, AND we are judging what is relevant or important to our culture by focussing on the experiences prevalent in those works. One of the most significant ideas in literary studies is that texts (books, movies, television shows etc) are cultural products. That is, they reflect the culture in which they are produced. The text is a broad category. As Jonathon Culler writes: ‘cultural studies includes and encompasses literary studies, examining literature as a particular cultural practice’ (1997, p.43).
Cultural Studies and Ideology The aim of this unit is to expose you to ideas that may not be prevalent in the literary canon, but are important to everyday life. Much of the unit will focus on critiquing the dominant ideologies that we see in literature, and in the culture around us. Ideology, for the purposes of this unit, ‘is used to refer to our ideas and beliefs, the collective and common beliefs of the whole culture. To put it more forcefully, cultural studies understands ideology as the network of ideas and beliefs through which culture and its members, order, represent and make sense of reality’ (Farmer, 2003, p.17).
A quick case in point: Lego
Lego and Gender What do you think of the differences between these ads? Why are the toys being marketed in this way? Is this difference natural or is it ‘culturally constructed’? What if we did this:
Reading Contemporary Fiction One of the reasons for teaching texts that have been written since the 1970s is that this was a critical period in Western history as it saw the rise of women’s rights, the gay movement and the civil rights movement. In this unit, we will explore themes such as: Sexuality Masculinity Femininity Race Class
The Unit Structure The unit is structured into two modules: The first six weeks will be looking at issues of identity and ideology surrounding gender and sexuality. The texts for this module are Tony Birch’s Blood and Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer without Men. The second module (from week seven to week twelve) will be dealing with issues of race and class. The texts for this module are Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Throughout the semester we will also look at different ways of writing texts, focussing on realism as well as more experimental forms of writing.
The Unit Format The Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory has been set to assist you with understanding some of the more complex material. Students must attend a 1 hour lecture and a 2 hour tutorial per week. Students must do the Essential Readings before each tutorial class. There is also an appendix in the Unit Reader with further readings (including the Recommended Readings). These will be helpful for planning your essays and giving you extra material to assist with understanding the set texts.
Requirements Read the four set novels – start now if you haven’t already and read them in order: Blood, The Summer without Men, Tar Baby, White Teeth. Make sure you also read the Essential Readings set for each week. Not only will these form the basis of class discussions some week, but the rationale is that we are always reading literature in the context of prevailing ideas. These readings will not just help you with the novels, but help us think about the general business of writing, reading and points of view.
Assessment Tutorial Presentation (20%) In-class Assessment (20%) Short Essay (20%) Long Essay (40%) Students must complete all assessments in order to pass the unit.
Tutorial Presentation You are required to give a tutorial presentation on one of the week’s topics. Which week you are to focus on will be decided in your first tutorial with your tutor. In this presentation, you MUST NOT only summarise the week’s tutorial readings, you should also present new material, raise issues which enhance your tutorial group’s understanding of the week’s topic, and have at least three questions to ask the tutorial group at the end of your presentation. You should ensure you fully cover the tutorial topic, answering the question for that week in this outline. Remember to reference all your source material. If you are using PowerPoint, there should be a list of references on the last slide. If you are not using PowerPoint, you must still hand in your references.
Tutorial Presentation (cont’d) The tutorial presentation should be minutes in length. Students are encouraged to use visual aids, such as PowerPoint slides, when it is practical and appropriate to do so. Students who fail to attend class on the day of their presentation will be given a mark of 0 unless they have medical certification. It’s vital that you talk to the students who are also presenting in your week so that you are all covering different books and questions. Due Date: The tutorial that corresponds with the chosen topic. Weighting: 20%
In-class Assessment These assessments will be set in weeks three, five, eight and ten, and will consist of short answers and multiple choice. Each assessment will take ten minutes to complete. Each assessment is worth 5% and will be based on the material provided in lectures and readings. Students must attend each assessment, and can only be excused with a medical certificate for the relevant date. Due Date: In Class Weighting: 4x5% 20% Total
Short Essay The short essay will be your first opportunity to apply the theoretical concepts of gender and sexuality to the first two novels covered in the unit: Tony Birch’s Blood and Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer without Men. It is essential that you draw upon the theoretical material provided in the Unit Reader when responding to the essay question, and that you back up your ideas with quotes from the texts. While reference must be made to both texts, it is acceptable to examine one of the novels in more detail than the other. A hard copy and an electronic copy MUST be submitted. Due Date: Wednesday April 16, 4pm Word Length: words Weighting: 20%
Long Essay For the long essay students are given a choice of three questions; all of which refer to Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Students are asked to focus on either race, gender or literary conventions in their essay. It is essential that you draw upon the theoretical material provided in the Unit Reader when responding to the essay question and also demonstrate that you have done further research. The long essay MUST include at least three references from academic texts found in and through the library (not internet sites). All texts consulted must be properly referenced using the Harvard System. Due Date: Friday May 23, 4pm Word Length: 2000 words Weighting: 40%
Assessment Handing in assignments: Assignments must be submitted on the due date with a completed assignment cover sheet. Assignments should be submitted in class on the due date or delivered to your tutor’s mailbox by 5pm on the due date. A hard copy and an electronic copy MUST be submitted for both essays. Extensions: Extensions for assignments are granted on medical or compassionate grounds only. Some form of documentation must be provided. Not planning your work schedule in relation to other assignments is insufficient grounds for an extension. Requests must be made to your tutor, in writing, prior to the due date.
Assessment Penalties for late assignments: Work submitted late without an extension will be penalised at a rate of one mark per day for a period of one week (5 working days). Work submitted more than five working days late without an extension will be graded on a pass/fail basis only, with no corrections or comments. Special consideration: If you feel that illness or personal difficulties have impaired your performance you may ask for Special Consideration which can facilitate late submission, and alternative arrangements for assignments. This can cover both emotional and physical difficulties.
A note on learning Much of what you will encounter in this unit will be new and may initially be difficult to understand. Please be patient – learning is a slow process, and it might take you several readings to get what a text is actually saying. Enjoy the unit – it is designed to challenge your pre- conceived ideas about ‘literature’ and the ‘literary’. Ask for help – from your tutors, through Academic Skills, and in the library. There are student writing mentors available through the library and they are an excellent resource!