Fall 2016 - Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Barnes, Ashley
Discipline and Number
LIT 4348 Section 001
TR Time 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM
Course Title
American Portraits

Description of Course:

This course will examine the intersection of visual art and literary art. How does each medium try to define and portray “the real self”? What does the true self look like, and who gets to control its presentation? Our data set for answering these questions will include cautionary tales about the power of the portrait to destroy what it reveals (Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Spofford), narratives of resistance to being read or seen clearly (Nella Larsen, Herman Melville), and slippery self-portraits that play on our assumptions about how to judge appearances (Cindy Sherman, James Weldon Johnson). We’ll also find that changes in technology change what we think the self is and how we can get hold of it. Nathaniel Hawthorne dramatizes the fear and hope that daguerreotypes could reveal the soul; nineteenth century phrenologists promise to read personality through the shape of the head, a promise that contemporary artists like Myra Greene and Kara Walker deconstruct; Mark Twain writes a tale of mistaken identity that makes fingerprints the proof of who’s black and who’s white when skin color itself fails to tell. The class will give students tools to be critically aware of the codes we use to “read” other people, and to reflect on the uses and abuses of different understandings of selfhood. By the end of the term, you will have discovered ways to explain what you think makes a character look like himself and come to life, whether on the page or in a picture.

Required Texts:

Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:

Your progress in the class will be assessed by regular writing assignments, active class participation (including informal presentations on the reading and on outside research), and a final examination.

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