This is an introductory course in world literature, aimed primarily at highschool freshmen, or (with instructor approval) younger students who are highly motivated and ready for the work. It covers materials from almost all major literary cultures from the earliest times to the present. As such it cannot cover any particular area in great detail, of course, but it should serve as a kind of sampler for future reading, and an introduction to literary study for students who have not had much opportunity to do so before. Though it is aimed at the relative beginner, it is a serious course. As I see it, the course has a handful of particular goals:
- To accustom the student to literary reading as a particular and somewhat specialized activity distinct from, say, reading the newspaper;
- To introduce a wide range of genres and forms, and examine the modes of thinking and writing of a variety of historical cultures;
- To build an appropriate historical framework to provide a context for further reading and study, and to illustrate relations between different literary cultures and movements;
- To give the student the mechanical and intellectual tools and vocabulary for further analysis and discussion of literary topics at all levels.
After teaching the material for a couple of years now, I have also noted a handful of other secondary goals that bring with them accompanying benefits:
- To encourage the students to begin to break free of overly credulous reliance on the printed word: the book does contain a handful of demonstrable mistakes, which are rather instructive, as well as amusing;
- To acquaint the student with the fundamental problem of reading anything in translation. Many beginning students in this course are under the impression that translation is a simple process, and that there is (even conceivably) a simple one-to-one relationship between the original and the English version. That this is not so may come to some as a shock, but it's a salutary one.
The course is based on a single solid textbook of about 1500 pages (World Literature, Revised Edition; Holt, Rinehart, and Winston: more complete information is available on the Required Materials page. It provides substantial introductory and interpretive notes to provide useful background for each selection, and though there is a handful of errors scattered throughout, they are fairly few -- better than the average in an enterprise such as this.
We will cover all the readings in the book, and perhaps supplement them occasionally with small outside readings from other sources online. Along the way, the student will complete quarterly examinations and weekly quizzes.
Parents and students should read and understand the underlying principles of this kind of educational process; the basic operating assumptions are discussed in some detail in the "General Expectations" page.
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