Introduction to Fiction
I developed this class for online. For this class, my aim is to construct a syllabus that will allow my students to become confident as "experts" on a particular subject while being introduced to a wide range of literary traditions. Constructing a classroom environment in which students feel like experts encourages more risk-taking and innovation in writing. I created the following that overtly centers on the surreal writing practices of Bruno Schulz, a Polish modernist who was killed during the Nazi occupation and the vast majority of his work was destroyed. I will be using Franz Kafka as a point of contemporaneous comparison. The second half of the semester will be looking at three contemporary writers that, in very unique ways, engage with the legacy of Bruno Schulz. These contemporary writers use variations of realism, surrealism, magical realism, conceptual writing, visual media and graphic design. Not coincidentally, this design also offers a wide range of themes and theoretical purchases for students to explore: memory, erasure, the sacred and the profane, absurdity and banality, and gender and sexuality.
Table of Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs)
In this class, we will take a stereoscopic approach to fiction: following how fiction, on the one hand, engages with and de-familiarizes society and culture, and, on the other hand, engages in a dialogue with other fiction. This approach should give us a sort of “3-D” view of how fiction works in total (as close to an ‘introduction’ as my pedagogical mind could muster.’) This class will track the meteoric impact of a single author, Polish writer Bruno Schulz, interrogating his fictional strategies for coping with modernization, racism, and fascism. Following a careful examination of Schulz’s fiction alongside one of his influences and contemporaries, Franz Kafka, we will examine the multiple and diverse contemporary responses to the void left by Schulz’s tragic murder at the hands of a Gestapo officer, and the resultant loss of the majority of his oeuvre. Over the postwar period, many Jewish and non-Jewish writers have circled back to this ephemeral moment for inspiration and for mourning. Of these writers, we will be reading the work of Cynthia Ozick and Nicole Krauss, analyzing how these writers have appropriated the fiction of Bruno Schulz to diverse cultural and aesthetic ends.
During the class, students will compose a literary analysis paper in three stages, 1.) a close reading, 2.) a close reading with research, and 3.) a comparative analysis paper or creative project. Students are also required to complete weekly quizzes and discussion board posts. Active engagement with discussion posts, attentive reading, and engagement with lectures are also required.
One of the more difficult aspects of an online class is how to translate a teacher's classroom personality to a digital classroom. In addition to my regular lectures (on literature and on writing) I like to include more quirky videos like this "trailer" that I send out to students before the class begins (left) as well as a sample of a literature lecture in which I offer historical background and give direction to cultivating expertise in a specific field (right).
Assignment Descriptions and Samples
Project One: Close Reading Analysis (4-5 pages);
In this short paper, you will examine a particular element of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles (gender, time, space, childhood, memory, etc.) and conduct a close reading. While you are reading, annotate the text. Trust those things in the text that caused you to pause, be confused, “read-into.” These are usually good indicators of something that needs to be worked through or can be interpreted in multiple ways. Street of Crocodiles is an admittedly “weird” text. Let it be weird, wade in the weirdness. For a close reading, you select 1 or 2 passages that appear to you particularly rich, layered, and open-to-interpretation (this selection process is not arbitrary).
The goal here is to present an interpretation that your audience (a well-educated person with passing familiarity and interest with the text or theme) could not have conceived of effortlessly. Then you should conscientiously defend that interpretation with evidence from the rest of the text. All quotations from the primary text that you integrate into your writing are not created equally, some are evidence and others are “interpretation-generators.” In this assignment, I will be looking that, as a writer, you show that you understand this distinction and are able to construct an engaging, fluid, coherent close reading.
Below are two examples of how I introduce this writing project (left) and a complementary lecture of writing advice (right).
Project Two: Close Reading Analysis with Research (5-7 pages) + Annotated Bibliography
In this paper, you will be building on your close reading analysis by “putting it in conversation” with one or two scholarly articles that engage with either your chosen theme (it might be a good idea to ask for a recommendation here, being smart is recognizing there are people with knowledge that can help you) or the text itself (of which there are many, so you want to be prudent with your decision).
The goal of this “extended revision” is to use your outside research to develop a more sophisticated way of seeing your readings of the text. Your overall interpretations should progress alongside your research, not wallow in some depressing stasis with extraneous “research” trimmings that are ultimately like putting glitter on a pimple (pardon the graphic).
A successful integration of outside research is able to present the argument of the other author fairly, coherently, and efficiently. In other words, your reader should feel like they have a complete picture without having to go and read the research themselves. (WARNING: Do not make your reader read large chunks of your research either, this forces them to do the work your writing should be doing, and is often less clear, like being dropped into the middle of an epic movie with no explanation of who the characters are and what their motives are. Instead, develop your paraphrase skills that we practiced in class, but do so responsibly and always with citations!).
Project Three: Comparative Literary Analysis OR Creative Response
At this point, we have now explored and encountered three contemporary creative projects that engage with the work of Bruno Schulz, each employing varied aesthetic strategies. The authors of these works also come to the work of Bruno Schulz from different backgrounds, generationally, geographically, writing with different goals and to different cultural moments (post-Zionist, 80’s feminism, and post-9/11). In this way, we have seen how fiction constructs intra-literary and extra-literary dialogues that affect the significations made by a reader. For this project, you will be composing a project that engages with these ideas, though the format that you choose is up to you. This is what you will be able to put up on the refrigerator.
Option #1: Comparative Literary Analysis (10-12 pages) + Reflection (3-4 pages)
In this paper, you will choose one of the contemporary pieces that we have read and conduct a close reading analysis in which you relate the work and its themes with the project of Street of Crocodiles. Although you are writing an in-depth comparative analysis with only one of the contemporary pieces, it is smart to contextualize your argument and “show” that you have competency and authority in the field. A good writer can subtly show their facility with other texts in such a way that improves on or elucidates their own argument. For this assignment, you will conduct research again, though you are not restricted to literary research. You may use scholarly work in the social sciences as well or in lieu of literary research.
In your reflection, give an account of how your writing evolved from the first project to this one. What obstacles did you face in entering into the discourse community of literary and cultural studies? Cite specific examples in your writing that show how your knowledge of the field and how your actual writing have allowed you to access this discourse community. Show how you overcame the obstacles of 1.) content knowledge, 2.) vocabulary, and 3.) style.
Option #2: Creative Response (10-12 pages) + Critical Introduction (3-5 pages)
You will write a short story that is a response to the work (and loss) of Bruno Schulz. This can take nearly infinite forms and accommodate a multitude of creative impulses. You might write a dreamlike and bizarre story of childhood. You might, alternatively, write a historiographic metafictional piece that engages with the biographical author. As we have discovered, there are even ways of blending both Schulz’s aesthetic practice and contemporary cultural issues. Allow the literature we have read thus far to inspire you, and fly wraithlike.
In the second part of this assignment, you will need to compose a “critical introduction” in which you give an account for the creative decisions that you made and how this relates to the other contemporary pieces that we have read. Whichever contemporary piece you feel most aligned with or inspired by, find one critical article and incorporate this research into your critical introduction. How is “Bruno” positioned or channeled in your creative project? How is your aesthetic strategy similar to or different from one of the contemporary authors we read? How does Bruno Schulz allow you to engage with and speak to contemporary cultural issues?
Check out these student samples of creative responses!