Fluid Readers, Fluid Texts

ENGL 203-04 Fall 2018

Professor Paul Schacht

Course description

Reader and Text is an introduction to the practice of literary criticism and the questions that practice engenders. These questions represent the first steps towards thinking theoretically about literature. Why is reading a worthwhile activity? How should we do it? Are some works more worthy of our attention than others? When we ask how a “text” affects “the reader,” who is the reader we imagine, and how are we defining the “text” that reader reads? How are these questions further complicated when we consider the fluidity of both readers and texts — the fact that actual readers are many, varied, and changing, while many texts exist in more than one version? We’ll keep such questions front and center as we examine poems, drama, fiction, and films that themselves ask questions about the continuity and singularity of human identity. Along the way, we’ll also consider how the very activities of writing and reading have been shaped and re-shaped by changes in technology, law, and culture.


Tuesdays and Thursdays 12:30 pm – 2:10 pm Welles 216

Final meeting (attendance mandatory): Tuesday, December 18, Welles 216, 12:00 pm – 3:20 pm

Individual learning outcomes

What will you know and be able to do as a result of taking this course?

  • Read literary texts closely
  • Write a short essay in literary criticism that adheres to the conventions of critical writing and standard English, particularly those conventions that structure literary discourse as an ongoing conversation
  • Understand how criticism as a practice gives rise to questions about how to conduct that practice, questions that are constitutive of English as a discipline: e.g., questions concerning what we should read, why we should read, and how we should read

Community learning outcomes

What will we accomplish in this course as a community?

  • Produce new knowledge (new for this community) about the nature of literature and literary criticism
  • Share knowledge about literature and literary criticism in accordance with scholarly conventions
  • Discuss and debate ideas about individual literary works and about the nature of literature and literary criticism in ways that respect the diversity of the community


How will you know if you’ve met the individual outcomes? How will we know if we’ve met the community outcomes?

  • You’ll keep a log of your activities that strengthen your ability to read and write analytically
  • From time to time you’ll share with me, or with peers, your own explanation of how your writing meets the standards for effective critical discourse
  • You’ll do public writing that demonstrates your understanding of how criticism as a practice gives rise to questions about how to conduct that practice
  • We’ll watch our shared knowledge grow in a space we’ll maintain online


  • Graff and Birkenstein, They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (4th edition), ISBN 9780393631678. (If you already own a previous edition from another course, such as INTD 105, there is no need to buy the more recent one, but if you’re buying for the first time, I strongly recommend that you buy the 4th edition and not a used copy of an earlier one.)
  • Public domain online versions of Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass; Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol; Henry David Thoreau, Walden and “Resistance to Civil Government”; Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest; Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. (Links to be provided.)
  • Poetry, essays, and films (rent on your own or with friends) as assigned.

Tools and accounts

Requirements and evaluation

Your final grade in this course will be based on the number of points you earn out of a maximum of 100 points. You’ll earn points for the activities listed below. You must complete all assigned work to pass the course.

  • Log your activities: You won’t earn points for this, but you’ll need to do it in order to earn points for other things you do. Activities not logged promptly will not receive points. In class, I’ll show you how you’ll log your activities.
  • Contribute to Zotero: You’ll earn up to 5 points for contributions to our shared Zotero library.
  • Blog: You’ll earn up 30 points for two blogposts (15 points each).
  • Blog some more (optional): You can earn up to 5 points for up to 5 additional blogposts over the course of the semester. Posts must be directly relevant to our work in the course. Each post will be evaluated based on relevance, quality of writing, and content. You can post to the blog as often as you like, but you can’t earn points for more than one extra-credit post in each week of the semester.
  • Write a critical essay: You’ll earn up to 25 points for a short critical essay (roughly five pages). Your grade on the critical essay will be based not only on the finished product but on your timely completion of intermediate steps, such as sharing drafts in progress and commenting on peers’ drafts.
  • Participate in online discussion: You’ll earn up to 15 points for contributions to online discussion using Hypothes.is and The Readers’ Thoreau.
  • Share a final reflection: You’ll earn up to 25 points for an end-of-semester blogpost in which you use works on the syllabus to discuss how criticism as a practice gives rise to questions about how to conduct that practice. (See the third individual learning outcome above.)
  • Complete all assigned work: No matter how many points you earn for the activities above, you won’t earn a passing grade in the course unless you complete all assigned activities.

Do you have a disability?

SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional or learning disabilities. Contact Tabitha Buggie-Hunt, Director of Disability Services to discuss needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.

Take care of yourself

  • It’s hard being a student! You can improve your chances of success by eating well, getting enough sleep, and making wise choices. If you need help, ask for it. Student Health and Counseling can help you if you’re sick or need psychological or emotional support. A variety of Campus Learning Centers, including the Writing Learning Center, offer academic support services. And then there’s me. Schedule an appointment to see me in my office for help with assignments, to tell me if you’re facing basic obstacles to success such as food insecurity, to continue the conversation about readings and topics in the course, or just to check out my Apple IIe computer.
  • If reading or discussing certain kinds of content in this course might prove traumatic for you, let me know and we’ll work together to figure out a reasonable solution. You should be prepared for the fact that some works on the syllabus contain depictions of or allusions to violence and sexuality.

Think about others

  • Express yourself honestly but respectfully
  • Practice forbearance when offended by others, even as you exercise your right to explain your reasons for taking offense
  • Consider how the world looks to someone who is not you
  • Do your best to address others as they prefer to be addressed


When you see a reading next to a date below, always complete the reading before the class meeting on that date. Likewise for film and video assignments.

Week 1

T 8/28: Who are we? Why are we here?

Th 8/30: Before class, watch Hannah Gadsby, Nanette (on Netflix). Watched it already? Watch it again for our discussion, please! Note: This monologue contains graphic content. See above under “Take Care of Yourself” and talk to me if you have a concern.

Week 2

T 9/4: Before class, make sure you’ve signed up for accounts on English @ SUNY Geneseo, Zotero, Slack, Hypothes.is, and The Readers’ Thoreau. Also, read pdfs in our shared Drive folder by K. Anthony Appiah, Alasdair Macintyre, and Barbara Hardy.

Th 9/6: Graff and Birkenstein, They Say, I Say (Read the whole book – it’s short!)

Week 3

T 9/11: Thoreau, Walden, “Economy”

Th 9/13: Thoreau, Walden, “Where I Lived”

Week 4

T 9/18: Walden, “Solitude”

Th 9/20: Walden, “Conclusion”; Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty” (in Drive)

Week 5

T 9/25: Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government”

Th 9/27: No class. Instead, attend the annual Walter Harding Lecture on Friday, 9/28 at 2 p.m. First blogpost due.

Week 6

T 10/2: Dickinson, “Faith is a fine invention”; Blake, “The Tyger”; Anonymous, “The Prophecy of Merlin”; Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address”; McKay, “The White House”; Yeats, “Mona Lisa”

Th 10/4: Poetry discussion

Week 7

T 10/9: Fall Break

Th 10/11: Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Week 8

T 10/16: Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Th 10/18: No class. Online activity TBA.

Week 9

T 10/23: Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

Th 10/25: Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass. Second blogpost due.

Week 10

Week 11

T 11/6: Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Th 11/8: Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. First draft of critical essay due.

Week 12

T 11/13: Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. First draft of critical essay due.

Th 11/15: Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Week 13

T 11/20: Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Th 11/22: Thanksgiving

Week 14

T 11/27: Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Th 11/29: Dickens, A Christmas Carol. Final draft of critical essay due.

Week 15

T 12/4: Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Th 12/6: Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life

Final Meeting

Our final class meeting will take place Tuesday, December 18, in Welles 216 from 12:00 pm to 3:20 pm. Attendance is mandatory. Final reflection must be posted to the blog before this meeting begins.