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C LIT 240 U: Writing In Comparative Literature

Meeting Time: 
MWF 1:30pm - 3:20pm
THO 335
Gary Handwerk

Syllabus Description:

Course Syllabus: Comparative Literature 240U

Reading Writing & Talking about Texts: Nature & Us

Winter 2016                                                                Professor Gary Handwerk

M/W 1:30-3:20, some F 1:30-3:20,                             Office: A-402 Padelford

     plus arranged conference times

Thomson 335                                                              Phone: 543-2693

e-mail:                        Office Hours: Thur 11 AM-1 PM & by appt.


About the course:

What are we actually doing when we read, write and talk about texts, both literary texts and other kinds? What are authors’ purposes when they put words on a page…and then choose to publish them? What are the texts themselves doing, as objects and as agents in our world? These questions, central to the craft of writing well, will provide the focus for a course that is designed to provide you with intensive practice in academic writing and analytical thinking skills. We will be using methodologies from the humanities to address topics that come from the natural sciences, examining questions about who we are as human beings in a world of nature and how we look as humans through contemporary scientific lenses.

 Our main goal is to work toward reading the texts in this course—a set that includes predominantly non-fictional prose from the field of popular nature and science writing—more closely and more carefully. As we read them, it is important to remember that they, like all written texts, are not simply informational essays or descriptive accounts of specific topics and issues. Texts are acts of persuasion, implicit arguments about how we should think and feel and behave that are often all the more effective for the implicitness of their positions. The popular audience essays we will be reading play a key role not just in informing or educating the public about environmental issues; they help shape the deep base of beliefs and values that frames political debates about public policies related to those issues.

Learning to read these kinds of texts from a “literary” perspective is a skill that we can also bring to bear on non-literary texts. Most kinds of discourse make extensive use of “literary” sorts of strategies, deploying narrative, imagery, allegory, structural design and other elements typical of literary texts to help them achieve their rhetorical purposes. It is rare that scientific expertise proves to be the sole determining factor even for what one might construe as scientific issues—the reality of global warming, for instance, or the decision to protect or not protect a specific endangered species, or the choice to approve (or not) a specific chemical or medication for wide-spread use. It is even rarer for politicians or bureaucrats to refrain from the slanting of perspective that rhetoric can provide (thus the still-recent renaming of global warming as “climate change”). So the analysis we will practice in this class is in an important way transferable to the reading and the writing you may do in very different contexts.

 Comparative Literature 240 is meant as a writing-intensive, rather than reading-intensive course. So the reading quantity will be relatively light for a college-level course, while the time spent on producing, reflecting upon and revising writing assignments will be heavier than in many other classes. Your writing provides the best measure of how well you can perform the kinds of analytical reading I will expect from you. Effective writing is in equal measure a matter of conception and execution, of planning and recursive reformulation; we will be discussing and practicing all of these activities.


Course Texts:

Pierre Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-59691-469-8)

John McPhee, Encounters with the Arch-Druid (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, ISBN: 0-374-51431-3)    

Rebecca Skloot (ed.), The Best American Science and Nature Writing: 2015 (Houghton Mifflin

            Harcourt, 2015, ISBN978-0-28674-0)

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (Vintage, ISBN 0-375-72748-5)


Graded Work:

             Analytical essays (4): 1 pp., single-spaced, no-margin           4/8 of final grade

            Group project/presentations on BASNW essay                       2/8 of final grade

            Attendance, e-responses, participation                                   1/8 of final grade

            Portfolio/Self-reflective essay                                                 1/8 of final grade


Analytical essays will be graded on a 10 point scale, with 9 = 4.0, 8 = 3.5, 7 = 3.0, etc. Late papers will have 1 point deducted per day. You will be writing four of these (each a one-page, single-spaced, no-margin paper, with topics circulated a week before they are due). You will have a chance to revise up to two of them before submitting your portfolio. Font size should be either 11-point or 12-point; papers using smaller font sizes will be returned unmarked.

Electronic submission of papers. Please use your last name as the first part of the file name for essays you submit for this class, and a number to indicate which draft it is. I.e., smith.bayard1, rajan.skloot2, allen.mcphee1, etc. ALL papers should be submitted to my faculty e-mail address (NOT to CANVAS!):


Other Essential Information:

1. The amount and the different kinds of writing you will be doing may make this a challenging course for you. In addition, the active close reading that I expect may be something that you have not had much occasion to practice. So I encourage you to ask questions in class and to see me in office hours for further help if needed. It is your responsibility to come to me with issues you feel are getting in the way of your effective learning. 

2.  This is an intensive course, requiring you to read very closely the texts we will cover and to write and revise steadily. For most of you, the required work will probably fill the 12-15 hours a week that the university prescribes as the norm for a 5-credit class. Some of you may find yourselves putting in more time than that during certain weeks.

3. The median grade for the course is likely to be close to the norm for classes in the humanities at UW, somewhere between 3.1 and 3.3. That isn’t the bottom grade; it’s the median. This means that it is indeed possible to get a grade below 3.0, even though you have been doing the assigned work and submitting everything on time.

4. Attendance and participation are required. Moreover, they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I will take roll on occasion and will use short electronic response comments and your portfolio to help me evaluate your class participation.



Course Calendar (subject to revision)


January 4         --          Course Introduction; Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (Preface)

January 6         --          Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (Chap. 1); Kinitsch, “Into

                                                the Maelstrom” in Best American Science and Nature: 2015 (154-62)

January 8         --          Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (Ch. 2-4)


January 11       --          Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (Ch. 5 & 9)

January 13       --          Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read

JANUARY 16    --         BAYARD PAPER DUE at midnight, via e-mail


January 18       --          MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY: NO CLASS

January 20       --          McPhee, Encounters with the Arch-Druid, Part 1: “A Mountain”


January 25       --          McPhee, Encounters with the Arch-Druid, Part 2: “An Island”

January 27       --          McPhee, Encounters with the Arch-Druid, Part 3: “A River”

JANUARY 30    --         McPHEE PAPER DUE at midnight, via e-mail


February 1       --          Skloot, Best American Nature and Science Writing: 2015 (selections tbd)

February 3       --          Skloot, Best American Nature and Science Writing: 2015

February 5       --          Research introduction at Suzzallo Library (tentative)


February 8       --          Skloot, Best American Nature and Science Writing: 2015

February 10     --          Skloot, Best American Nature and Science Writing: 2015

FEBRUARY 13   --         BASNW PAPER DUE at midnight, via e-mail


February 15     --          PRESIDENTS’ DAY: NO CLASS

February 17     --          Skloot, Best American Nature and Science Writing: 2015


February 22     --          Skloot, Best American Nature and Science Writing: 2015

February 24     --          Skloot, Best American Nature and Science Writing: 2015

February 26     --          Group Presentations


February 29     --          Lopez, Arctic Dreams

March 2           --          Lopez, Arctic Dreams


March 7           --          Lopez, Arctic Dreams

March 9           --          Lopez, Arctic Dreams

MARCH 12       --          LOPEZ PAPER DUE at midnight, via e-mail


March 16         --          PORTOFOLIO DUE



Principles of Prose Analysis

(Or, What Good Readers of Narrative and Non-fictional Prose Read For)

I:   Principle of Narrative Economy—“Every Word Matters”

II: Principle of Narrative Juxtaposition—“Location, Location, Location”

 III: Principle of Narrative Coherence—“Everything Fits…But Some Things Fit Better Than Others”

IV: Principle of Narrative Completeness—“Now You See It…Now You Don’t”


Catalog Description: 
Comparative approach to literature and a workshop in writing comparative papers in English. Emphasis on cross-cultural comparison of literary works. Readings in English with an option to read selected texts in the original languages Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements Met: 
English Composition (C)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
September 13, 2016 - 9:12pm