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Utter Nonsense: From Allegory to Zaum
COL 338
Spring 2017 not offered
Crosslisting: ENGL 357

This course explores the ways that we make sense of literary works by examining two groups of texts that have a vexed relationship to the notion of sense itself.

The first half of the course will offer a survey of 20th-century avant garde writings, from the French, Russian, and American traditions, that have been (or might be) classified as nonsense. These include modernist experiments allied with Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, and Absurdism, as well as texts generated by machines (or algorithms) and texts composed in accordance with rigorous formal constraints. Reading these texts alongside both their authors¿ manifestos and the subsequent interpretations of literary critics, we will try to understand what authorial principles of organization or readerly practices of interpretation might enable us to make sense of particular kinds of nonsense.

In the second half of the semester we will examine allegorical texts from the middle ages (Dante, Everyman) to the present (Black Mirror, Westworld). Like nonsense texts, allegories seem to be missing something that is necessary to their meaning: they require us to impose upon them some kind of sense that was not initially there, or to replace a first, literal reading with a second one that we can only produce by means of some system or code exterior to the text itself (or so deviously hidden within the text that it constitutes an "enigma").

Throughout the semester, we will continually ask how the strategies of interpretation we bring to bear on these two groups of strange texts might relate to-and even serve as models for-the ways that we read less unusual literary and non-literary texts.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA COL
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Student Option
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (COL)(ENGL)

Last Updated on JUN-20-2024
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