online syllabus:


electronic reserve:


listserv website:


listserv address:


~ schedule ~



English 227: Writing about Literature

winter 2004

Dr. Abby Coykendall

Office Phone: (734) 487-0147

Office Location: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G
Office Hours: Monday 12-1; Wednesday 12-2, 3-5

~ or by appointment ~

Section # 5; REGISTRATION # 24360
Wednesday 7:00 - 9:40 PM
Pray-Harrold Hall 329



English 227: Writing about Literature

English 227 will not only provide you with the grounding in literature and literary theory that you will need to appreciate and comprehend upper-division literature classes, but it will also furnish you with the writing and communication skills that you will need to succeed in them.  To this end, we will investigate a wide variety of literature (short fiction, novels, poetry, and drama) as well as a wide variety critical theories, particularly those that are most representative of the major movements in literary studies: marxism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, semiotics, feminism, queer theory, cultural studies, and post-colonialism.  The ultimate aim is to offer a forum in which you can develop and refine your writing and critical thinking skills at an advanced level, especially as they apply to and assist in the study of literature.  By the end of the semester, you will 1) be conversant in the techniques, thematic concerns, and formal structure of the principal genres of literature, 2) be acquainted with the history, terminology, and theoretical positions of contemporary schools of literary criticism, and 3) be capable of applying this new knowledge in writing, first and foremost by developing clear, coherent, and persuasive arguments that are receptive to the concerns of literary studies and reflective of the conventions of literary criticism.  In short, we will investigate the multiform ways of reading and writing — not to mention the multiform ways of reading about writing and writing about reading — by practicing and perfecting each of these skills in relation to the other.


Required Texts

The following books are available at Ned’s bookstore (; 483-6400; 707 W. Cross St.), although additional copies may be available at other EMU bookstores:


v       Short Guide to Writing About Literature, Ed. Sylvan Barnet (Longman 2003; ISBN # 0321104765)

v       William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 4th Edition  (Longman 2000; ISBN # 020530902x)

v       Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Dover Thrift 1993; ISBN # 0486275434)

v       Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay (Noonday Press 1991; ISBN # 0374521670)

v       Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (Random House 1999; ISBN # 037575377x)

v       William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Ed. Gerald Graff (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2000; ISBN # 0312197667)

Make sure to get the same editions pictured and listed above; otherwise, the differing page numbers will make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to follow along with class discussions.  Most of the required texts are located in the Halle Library’s Electronic Reserve:  (Contact another student or myself if you forget the password.)  If you experience difficulty viewing these texts on your computer, see the link “Problems viewing PDF or other file formats?  Read this!”  You may need to download small versions applications (Adobe, MS Word, etc.) in order to open them.  It is best to print out the Electronic Reserve materials in one sitting every few weeks in advance from the computers on the first floor of the Halle library, where you will see a station with multimedia computers all equipped with course reserve software.  These computers are much more likely to be able to open the files (and to open them quickly) than your own computer.  Hard copies of the Electronic Reserve texts will be available on reserve at the Halle circulation desk if you experience any complications, but you will then have to pay for the photocopying rather than printing them from the library computers for free.


Nothing is more vital for success in this class than keeping up with, and actively engaging in, the weekly reading assignments and class discussions.  Make sure to bring a copy of each text that we will be discussing to class.  You will have to have read the assigned material, and have it on hand, when I call on you in class or when we do group work, which will be often.  There will also be periodic, unannounced quizzes to ensure that you are keeping up with the reading.



As with any university course, the homework will take around two hours for every hour of class, and thus you can expect to spend six hours each week completing the various assignments and readings.  There will be a large number of writing assignments: periodic responses throughout the semester, a polished four-page essay following each of the three sections of the course, two substantial revisions of those essays expanded to six pages, as well as a final seven-page research essay which will stand in lieu of the final exam.


The responses will be posted to the class listserv (, but they may also be handwritten if you prefer privacy or have difficulty accessing the internet.  Each response should be at least 500 words, or roughly two paragraphs and one page, although longer (or more engaged) responses will not only enhance your grade, but also increase the ability of other students and myself to offer feedback.  In contrast to the responses, the essays will offer a thorough examination of the readings and have the proper academic format.  The primary difference between a response and an essay is that with the response, the mechanical elements of writing do not matter in the least, and the goal is to freely and openly express ideas; whereas, with the essay, the mechanical elements of writing must be attended to very thoroughly and the goal is to defend a focused argument clearly, coherently, and persuasively.  


Guidelines on the research essay are available online — — and in the ER.  There will also be informal, in-class presentations of your final research essays during our last class, the time otherwise scheduled for the final exam.  The essay will be similar to a final exam in that it must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the skills in writing, critical thinking, and literary theory that we have covered over the course of the semester. 






Responses, Participation,

and Research Presentations



4 pgs.

Essay One (Fiction); Essay Two (Poetry); Essay Three (Fiction or Poetry)

February 4, 2004

March 10, 2004

April 7, 2004


6 pgs.

Revisions of Essays One and Two

February 18, 2004

March 31, 2004


7 pgs.

Research Essay (Drama)

April 26, 2004


Essays will be given two grades — one for theme and one for writing — which will be averaged together evenly.  Those students who are less familiar with the technicalities of writing will thus receive a boost if they put initiative into conceiving a unique idea, and those students who are less used to thinking critically will receive a boost by writing clearly and carefully.  In order to ensure that you put effort into enhancing both aspects of your writing, however, revised essays will be worth as much, if not more, than the first versions and will also be given two grades: one for the amount of effort put into revision and one for the quality of the essay as a whole.  Any late essay will drop a third of a grade for each day late; that is, an A paper will turn into A- if turned in one day late, an A paper will turn into B+ if turned in two days late, and so on.  Likewise, any essay that is shorter than the required length will be marked down in proportion to the pages missing.  For instance, a three-page essay that is supposed to be four pages can receive at most a grade of 75%, or C, since it is missing ¼ of the required length. 


The participation grade, largely based on responses, quizzes, and the research presentation, is a considerable portion of your final grade — 20% — so keep up with the reading and response assignments and make your voice heard in class.  Late responses are marked down only minimally but must be turned in within a week of the initial due date.  The best way to make up a response is by comparing the reading that you missed to that which the class is currently considering.  This will help both you and the other students make connections and comparisons that span the course as a whole.  Your total response points will be averaged, put on a fair grading curve, and then bumped up or down slightly depending on how actively you engage in class discussions. 


Academic Dishonesty

Plagiarism is a very serious offense against the Code of Student Conduct.  According to Funk and Wagnalls’ New Standard Dictionary (1921), plagiarism is the “act of plagiarizing or appropriating the ideas, writings, or inventions of another without due acknowledgment; specifically, the stealing of passages either for word or in substance, from the writings of another and publishing them as one’s own.”  The general rule is that if you use three or more words of another writer in a row without enclosing those words in quotation marks and acknowledging your source, you are guilty of plagiarism.  With the internet, plagiarism is quite easy and tempting to do; however, the internet also makes plagiarism that much more easy to catch and document, so do not even think about doing it in this class or elsewhere.  Note: Turning in a paper that you wrote for another class as an essay for this class, i.e. recycling the same words for double credit, also constitutes academic dishonesty at EMU. 


Any academic dishonesty will result in a failing, zero-percent grade for the assignment.  Thus, if you plagiarize on one of the essays or revisions, you can expect, at most, to receive an A- (or 90%) for your final grade, supposing that you did everything else in the class perfectly, and if you cheat on the final research essay, you can expect, at most, to receive a C- (or 70%) for your final grade, again supposing that you did everything else perfectly.  With the internet, plagiarism is quite easy and tempting to do; however, the internet also makes plagiarism that much more easy to catch and document, so do not even think about doing it in this class or elsewhere.   


Because this class primarily consists of reading and discussion — rather than facts, figures, or memorization — attendance is crucial.  You may be absent two times without penalty.  Each absence after that will result in a reduction of your final grade by one-third the letter grade: that is, the fifth class missed will turn a final grade of an A into an A-; the sixth, into a B+; and so on.  The two absences are for emergencies, so if you ditch the class two times, do not expect a reprieve from the rule if you become ill or have other extenuating circumstances towards the end of the semester.  If there is a documented emergency (a death in the family, lost limb, prison term, &c.) at the end of the semester, I will go out of my way to help in any way I can, including giving an incomplete, supposing that you have otherwise kept up with the assignments, attended class regularly, and finished a majority of the course.  Aside from the grade reduction, missing classes will hinder your ability to do the assignments properly and promptly.  Likewise, even though there will be no penalty for lateness, it can have several undesirable consequences: you may miss crucial information (such as the extension of a deadline) often covered in the first ten minutes of class and, of course, you will likely distract other students and myself while entering the room.  If you are late, it is your responsibility to ensure that you have not been marked absent.  If you are absent from class, contact another student who can fill you in on missed work before contacting me.  Above all, make sure to withdraw from the course if you find that you cannot attend class regularly or fall too far behind in the reading. 


Wednesday, January 7:  Introduction to course / Homework: Get Books; Review the syllabus and write down any questions that you have; Email to be added onto the class listerv; Read “The Writer as Reader” (Short Guide 3-9); Matthew Arnold, “The Study of Poetry” (ER 624-28); Isak Dinesen, “The Dreamers” (ER 271-355) / WRiting Assignment: Write a Response (Due 4 PM, January 14) on Dinesen incorporating Arnold, sending it in plain text to the listserv email address at; For confirmation or to see responses, visit the listerv archives at; If you have any difficulty, either email your response to me or turn in a hard copy during class. [95 pgs.]


Wednesday, January 14: Discuss Ethics, Aesthetics, and Approaches to Literature  / Homework: Read “The Reader as Writer” (Short Guide 12-31, 33-36); Karl Marx, “Consciousness Derived from Material Conditions” (ER 385-91); Charles Dickens, Hard Times Book I, Chapter I  - Book II, Chapter I (ER, 63 pgs.) / WRiting Assignment: Write down one quotation from Marx and one related quotation from Dickens for class discussion [86 pgs.]


Wednesday, January 21: Discuss Marxism  / Homework: Read “Two Forms of Criticism: Explication and Analysis” (Short Guide 37-59); “Writing About Fiction” (Short Guide 125-37, 142-46, 151-52); The Elements of Style, Part I (1-14); Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, “The Culture Industry” (ER 120-54); Kurt Vonnegut, “Harrison Bergeron” (ER 537-45); e. e. cummings, “next to of course god america I” (ER, 1 pg.) / WRiting Assignment: Write an introductory paragraph, thesis, and three topic sentences for Essay One (Fiction, 4 pages) on Dickens, Marx, and Horkheimer/Adorno and email them to by 4 PM January 28 [94 pgs.]


Wednesday, January 28: Discuss Materialist Approaches to Literature  / Homework: Read “Writing About Fiction” (Short Guide 160-63, 164-70); The Elements of Style, Part II  (15-33); Sigmund Freud, Selections from The Interpretation of Dreams (ER 919-26); E. T. A. Hoffmann, “The Sandman” (ER 85-118); Selections from Freud, “The ‘Uncanny’” (ER 929-52) / WRiting Assignment: Finish Essay One (4 pages), Due February 4 [89 pgs.]


Wednesday, February 4: Discuss Psychoanalysis / Homework: Read “Other Kinds of Writing about Literature” and “Style and Format” (Short Guide 60-63, 257-77); The Elements of Style (34-48); Edgar Allen Poe, “The Purloined Letter” (ER 921-34); Jacques Lacan, “Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’” (ER 28-54); Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess,” commentary helpful but optional (ER, 3 pgs.); Sylvia Plath, “Daddy” (ER, 1 pg.) / WRiting Assignment: Write a Response (Due 4 PM, February 11) on either Browning or Plath applying the psychoanalytic theories of Freud or Lacan (or both) to the poem, sending it in plain text to the listserv email address at [85 pgs.]


Wednesday, February 11: Discuss Psychoanalytic Approaches to Literature / Homework: Read “Writing About Poetry” (Short Guide 200-204, 207-16, 218-22, 225-35, 241-3); “Deconstruction and Post-Structural Analysis” (ER 161-69); Jacques Derrida, “The Purveyor of Truth” (ER 173-212); Bob Pearlman, Selected Poems (ER 497-504); Pearlman, “Virtual Reality” (ER, 6 pgs.); Charles Bernstein, “The Klupzy Girl” (ER 566-69) / WRiting Assignment: Revise Essay One (Fiction, 6 pages), Due February 18 [92 pgs.]


Wednesday, February 18: Discuss Deconstruction and Postmodernism; In-class video on Derrida / Homework: Read Honoré de Balzac, “Sarrasine,” (Appendix in Barthes, 221-54); Roland Barthes, S/Z (3-4, 15-217) / WRiting Assignment: Write an introductory paragraph, thesis, and three topic sentences for Essay Two (Poetry, 4 pages) on one of the poets (Browning, Plath, Pearlman, or Bernstein) incorporating Freud, Lacan, or Derrida (or some combination of the three) and email them to by 4 PM March 3 [237 pgs.]


Wednesday, February 25 — Winter Recess


Wednesday, March 3: Discuss Semiotics / Homework: Read Nancy Armstrong, “The Occidental Alice” (ER 536-60); Read Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / WRiting Assignment: Finish Essay Two (Poetry, 4 pages), Due March 10 [120 pgs.]


Wednesday, March 10:  Discuss Feminism and New Historicism / Homework: Read The Elements of Style (49-65); Michel Foucault, “We ‘Other’ Victorians” (ER 3-13); Judith Butler, Selections from Gender Trouble (ER 2488-2501); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Selections from Epistemology of the Closet (ER 744-50); Poems from William Shakespeare, John Donne, David Bergman, Elizabeth Bishop, Aphra Behn, Walt Whitman, Mina Loy, Robert Duncan, Richard Harris, and Gregory Corso (ER “Queer Poetics” 1133-55) / WRiting Assignment: Write a Response (Due 4 PM, March 17) incorporating one of the queer theorists and one of the poets, sending it in plain text to the listserv email address at [63 pgs.]


Wednesday, March 17: Discuss Queer Theory; In-class video 60 Minutes, “Sexuality 101” / Homework: Read “Writing About Drama” (Short Guide 178-196); The Elements of Style, Part V (66-85); “Writing a Research Paper” (Short Guide 278-300, 309-10); Franz Fanon, “The Fact of Blackness” (ER 323-26); bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness” (ER 2478-84); Ralph Ellison, “Battle Royal” (ER 314-27); Toni Morrison, “Recitatif” (ER 243-61); Begin reading Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (v-vii, xi-xviii, 3-15)  / WRiting Assignment: Revise Essay Two (Poetry, 6 pages), Due March 31; Write introductory paragraph, thesis, and three topic sentences for Essay Three (Fiction or Poetry, 4 pages) on one of the literary works covered since the Winter Recess (“Sarrasine,” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or the poetry), one of the gender critics (Foucault, Butler, or Sedgwick), and one of the cultural theorists (Armstrong, Fanon, or hooks), and email them to by 4 PM March 31 [100 pgs.]


Wednesday, March 24 — Class Cancelled for Conference


Wednesday, March 31:  Discuss Race and Cultural Studies / Homework: Read Edward Said, Imaginative Geography” (ER, 4 pgs. []); Continue reading Conrad, Heart of Darkness (15-96, xxxiv-xxxvii, xlv-lii) / WRiting Assignment: Finish Essay Three (4 pages), Due April 7 [91 pgs.]


Wednesday, April 7:  Discuss Post Colonialism; In-class video Edward Said on Orientalism / Homework: Read William Shakespeare, The Tempest, historical and critical background of the play (3-87, 109-115, 229-43, 324-335) / WRiting Assignment: Write your research proposal for Essay Four (Drama, 7 pages); See “Guidelines for the Research Essay” [] and “List of Recommended Databases for Literature”  []; Email it to by 4 PM April 14 [118 pgs.]


Wednesday, April 14:  Application of critical methodologies to William Shakespeare, The Tempest / WRiting Assignment: Prepare an annotated bibliography for your research presentation; Finish Essay Four (Drama, 7 pages), Due April 26


Wednesday, April 21:  Presentations of Final Research Essays on The Tempest


Monday, April 26, 12 PM: Final Research Essay Due.  Drop it in my mailbox in the English Dept., 612 Pray Harrold or slide it under my office door, 603G Pray Harrold.  Anything handed in after 12 PM sharp will not be given any credit.  Also leave a self-addressed, stamped manila envelope if you want commentary on your essay.